CRTC Survey: Canadian TV Showrunners & Writers On New Cancon Requirements

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It’s been a little over a month since the CRTC (Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) handed down a ruling they claim will give more “flexibility” to producers, but one that many creatives in the Canadian television industry are very upset about. Responsible for regulating and supervising broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada, the CRTC’s ruling in late August to reduce the number of points reserved for Canadians on productions has stirred up quite the controversy. It’s a move that many have interpreted as the CRTC saying Canadian TV needs international help to succeed.

In the past, productions needed 8/10 Canadian points, used to hire key creative staff, in order to gain access to independent production funds and tax credits. For example, a writer/director is worth 2 points and 1 point each is awarded for two lead actors. The new ruling has reduced that number from 8 to 6 points, allowing producers options such as hiring two Hollywood stars instead of Canadians and the ability to still gain access to crucial funding.

While both the Writers’ Guild of Canada (WGC) and Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) have issued statements speaking out against the CRTC’s ruling, The TV Junkies decided to speak directly to Canadian creatives. Below you’ll find responses from some of Canadian TV’s top showrunners and writers about what the ruling means to them, the international appeal of Canadian TV and how they have directly benefitted from the previous 8/10 rule.

Fill in the blank: Canadian TV’s biggest asset is ______.

Tassie Cameron, Mary Kills People/Rookie Blue: Its growing international potential and reputation, thanks to its passionate, talented, hard-working creative community of writers, directors, actors, crew and executives.

Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, X Company: Canadians.

Aaron Martin, Slasher: The specificity of the Canadian voice.

Daegan Fryklind, Bitten: In being able to tell stories that are reflective of our country and cultures.

Dennis Heaton, Motive: Canadian TV creators. The writers, directors and actors that actually want to stay in this country and create shows we can be proud of.

Jennifer Holness, Shoot the Messenger: Our talent. But it’s talent that needs support to continue to grow and meaningfully contribute to the creative conversation not only here but abroad.

Karen Walton, Exec Producer in Residence Bell Media Prime Time TV: Affordable, prolific and highly successful talent. An insane ratio of professional-grade, competitive talent/population.

Peter Mohan, The Listener: The creativity and ingenuity of the writers and creators. We can make quality television with few of the opportunities or resources of the American industry.

Sudz Sutherland, Shoot the Messenger: Our talent. We have so many talented actors, writers, directors and craftspeople working and living and paying taxes in the country it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.

Denis McGrath, X Company/Aftermath: The perspective, talent and experience of its writers and showrunners. Shorter seasons and not a lot of shows means that we build resumes on a LOT of projects – comedy, drama, genre. Being CLOSE to the US, but not “OF” it, means that in a sense we know how to translate America to the world. We can create the same kinds of shows, but with a ‘pop’ that makes them seem different – an off-kilter approach to character, and more worldly attitudes toward issues of gender, belonging, political difference, etc.

 

Complete this sentence: The biggest problem with the CRTC’s ruling is ______.

Cameron: It will allow Canadian producers to use Canadian taxpayers’ money to hire non-Canadian creators, writers and actors to make so-called “Canadian” shows.

Ellis and Morgenstern: That it assumes we don’t already enjoy international success. Canadian TV is enjoyed all around the world. Canadian stories and Canadian viewpoints can’t be written by imported writers.

Martin: That it doesn’t make any actual sense. They say it’s so producers can sell “Canadian stories” better internationally, but every show I’ve run in Canada has sold extremely well internationally. Don’t even get me started on how well Degrassi has sold around the world…

Fryklind: It encourages producers using the CIPF to look outside of the country to find “name” talent rather than fostering a talent pool here. This is a slippery slope and I imagine there’s equal pressure to alter the 8/10 on additional public funding sources. This change would and does undermine years of progress. It’s three steps backwards and it will hurt us when saner minds realize this in the years to come and try to recorrect to build a Canadian talent pool again.

Heaton: The fact that it’s a complete inverse of the CRTC’s reason to exist. The CRTC is an organization founded to protect and promote Canadian cultural sovereignty.

Holness: It does not fully consider the impact of the changes. I believe they will effectively stifle our writing and other creative talent and result in less control over projects by Canadian producers. It also means Canadian money will be used to pay US talent, enrich the US industry as our own suffers.

Walton: It makes no sense. If your major natural and renewable resource in a sector is human resources (talent) why would you devalue and in fact willfully discount it in a national regulatory policy? What’s the endgame? None of the defenses or rationale presented track for me, economically and long-view; it just sounds like the CRTC sees its current concern as, turning Canada into a foreign service production unit. Why? It’s an unreliable core value that we cannot control as a sector nor an economy.

Mohan: It will guarantee that producers, who have always been ready to sell out the Canadian content and creators, will be able to shift to using Americans in an attempt to make their product more sellable.

Sutherland: It defies logic. Do they think that networks will do things unless mandated when it is far cheaper to buy product than make it? To develop the talent that writes, performs, shoots and produces these cultural products? I do not know who lobbied for this other than bigger producers who have a pipe dream of getting something on American television, and think this is the shortcut to that end goal. This is the wrong path.

McGrath: It comes from a place of ignorance about the real challenges facing Canadian TV, and won’t do anything to solve those challenges. “Flexibility” in being able to “attract” American talent supposes that they’ll be able to nab top US talent. They won’t. They don’t pay enough. Same with behind-the-scenes stuff.

An actor I worked with that we may have missed out on given the new rules is ______.

Cameron: Every single actor in all 73 episodes of Rookie Blue.

Ellis and Morgenstern: Evelyne Brochu, Hugh Dillon, Enrico Colantoni.

Martin: Erin Karpluk, or Aubrey Graham (aka Drake).

Fryklind: Every single actor I’ve worked with, because there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have been hired.

Heaton: Any Canadian actor hoping to score a lead on a Canadian series.

Holness: We cast Stephan James in his first feature role – Home Again. Had the CRTC rule not existed we would have cast that part out of the US. Note: This is how literally every major Canadian star in the US career started. With these new rules we will not be creating Canadian/US stars. We will be supporting US stars.

Walton: Tatiana Maslany.

Mohan: I have had to hire American actors who were inferior (or who came with debilitating substance abuse problems) because producers were chasing American “Name Factor”.

Sutherland: Lyriq Bent.

McGrath: All of them. Sasha Roiz is a great example. Had casting an American been an option, they would have pushed for that, and we would have wound up with a B-lister. But the truth is that if you relax the rules, what it means is that Canadians don’t get to be the leads on shows anymore. They’ll all be the day players and number 3 and down in the cast.

The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

A great example of Canadian TV’s international appeal is …

Cameron: Tatiana Maslany, winning this year’s Best Actress Emmy for Orphan Black.

Ellis and Morgenstern: The ads for Canadian TV in the Paris Metro and Times Square, the Japanese who flock to PEI to see where Anne of Green Gable is filmed, the fact that half our twitter followers are fans from outside Canada.

Martin: That I can go pretty much anywhere in the world, turn on the TV, and find a Canadian show. And that both the United States, and Russia, tried Being Erica formats.

Fryklind: Obviously Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy win.

Heaton: Orphan Black, international critical and audience success. Call Me Fitz sold to almost two hundred territories. There are countless examples, in all genres and formats of storytelling.

Holness: Orphan Black, Murdoch Mysteries, The Book of Negroes, Degrassi (all the generations), The Kennedy’s and hopefully my new show Shoot The Messenger.

Walton: Little Mosque on the Prairie, Orphan Black, Lost Girl, Murdoch Mysteries.

Mohan: The Listener which plays in over 180 countries. Our series entertain audiences all over the world.

Sutherland: Orphan Black, Degrassi, Anne of Green Gables, Trailer Park Boys, 19-2, Heartland, Schitt’s Creek, Flashpoint, and our very own brand new Shoot the Messenger.

McGrath: Where do you start? Flashpoint in 150 countries. XCompany airing in 12 countries in Latin and South America. Slings & Arrows being remade in Brazil and becoming one of their highest rated shows. The international buzz of Lost Girl and Wynonna Earp. The fact that Murdoch Mysteries is the number one show in France, and does well all over the world as well.

 

The 8/10 points rule personally helped my career by …

Cameron: Allowing me to co-create, executive produce and showrun an international hit series, without a long track record as an established showrunner.

Ellis and Morgenstern: Ensuring that we would not be replaced by an American writer when Flashpoint was sold to CBS.

Martin: Making sure that the Canadian voice had to be from a Canadian. I had zero experience when I was hired on to develop (and then run) Degrassi – I don’t think I would have had that chance had it been open to non-Canadian writers.

Fryklind: Because previous to this change, Canadian producers weren’t as able to piecemeal creators and other talent from anywhere, financed by Canadian dollars. To be honest, those 2 points were usually reserved for actors, but opening to 6 now creates space for foreign showrunners and directors.

Holness: Having money in the system when I have created, crafted and produced literally every project during my career. As a small producer I did not have the experience and connections to bring in the kind of known talent the new ruling will allow. Having 1/10th the population and even less of the resources should make it obvious that the new CRTC system will benefit Canadians who are developing or who are finally starting to find their creative voices and talent.

Walton: Providing me any incentive to stay in Canada and hire in Canada as a citizen with plenty of options to go elsewhere to work and frankly make a better living and more product doing so.

Mohan: In the early days, when producers wanted to hire all American writers, they were forced to hire a number of Canadians. Ours were the scripts that worked best (and we were the least expensive). Eventually, I was running the shows I was working on and hiring entirely Canadian staffs.

Sutherland: Giving me opportunities to direct TV Movies like The Phantoms and Doomstown. Both films won me Canadian Screen awards for directing, and The Phantoms won an international Emmy. Those jobs, under the new rules, could go to American ‘name’ directors, instead of a hungry young director who put everything he had into it.

McGrath: Making every sci-fi show I’ve ever worked on be able to hire me, instead of an American.

 

The CRTC’s ruling is really sending creators a message that …

Cameron: Canadian producers don’t think Canadian talent is good enough.  

Ellis and Morgenstern: They are ready to sell out the rights of all Canadians to see their own stories, viewpoints and culture on their screens.

Martin: They don’t value our voice–and I can’t think of any other country in the world where its own government, or its cultural bodies, tries to outsource culture. It’s mind-boggling, and it sure won’t make for better TV.

Heaton: We might as well leave the country if we want to continue to find success in this industry. The sad thing about this is the fact that all of us made a choice to stay in Canada to nurture our own indigenous industry, and our Government wants to thank us with this policy gut punch.

Fryklind: The “Canadian” definition of the “Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission” is up for grabs.

Holness: We don’t believe in you.

Walton: Either the CRTC has no clear grasp of what fuels the sector and its long-term benefits as a collection of industries in the Canadian economy, or the CRTC has self-determined a model that benefits offshore interests over resident Canadians’ interests.

Mohan: They are being influenced by the big “Canadian” production companies (mostly based in L.A.) and their scores of lobbyists, who want full access to Canadian public financial resources while selling out both Canadian storytellers and the Canadian public who deserve a chance to be able to see their stories on the screen. This is a short-sighted greed-driven decision, not one that serves the long term construction of a strong home-grown industry.

Sutherland: They believe that lowering the points requirement will make our cultural products more marketable in the international marketplace. This is the same kind of thinking that says that the free market with less regulation, will flourish. We only have to look at the collapse of 2008 to know how that worked out for us. We need to send a strong message to the CRTC that this is a mistake and it is not too late to rescind this decision.

McGrath: A) We have no idea what the issues really are. B) We are listening to form-filling producers and big production companies who don’t buy into the showrunner being the key to making good TV. C) If you’re under 35 you should leave and move to L.A. Immediately.

 

Thoughts on the CRTC’s ruling and the future of Canadian TV? Share your comments below!

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